GDANSK, Poland — Solidarity, the independent Polish trade union that four a long time in the past begun an avalanche of dissent that swept absent Communism, has much more modest ambitions these times. For a begin, it desires its plywood boards back again.
The boards, scrawled with needs for liberty and hoisted on a wall at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk in 1980, have been on show due to the fact 2014 at a museum constructed amid the ruins of a facility that laid off most of its personnel several years ago.
The museum, an oasis of shimmering modernity produced with European Union resources, is dedicated to the ideals that drove Solidarity in 1980 when it was a varied, Western-wanting opposition motion with 10 million associates.
Nowadays, that movement has shriveled to a narrow and deeply conservative power, but just one that, though fiercely opposed to Communism, boasts of speaking up for those people remaining guiding by Poland’s generally unpleasant changeover to capitalism.
That shift has put the plywood boards, referred to with pretty much spiritual reverence as “the tablets,” at the center of a bitter tussle over Poland’s previous and future.
Alternatively of the symbol of unity it after was, Solidarity has turn out to be an emblem of the divisions that now determine politics throughout Europe’s formerly Communist eastern flank, wherever soaring hopes created by the close of Communism and the prospect of rejoining the rest of Europe have typically curdled into surly, inward-seeking discontent.
No for a longer time in opposition, the union is now intently aligned with Poland’s intolerant nationalist governing get together, Law and Justice.
“Solidarity back then and Solidarity nowadays characterize two distinct visions of Poland,” said Adam Michnik, an intellectual who rallied to the aspect of Gdansk’s striking employees in the 1980s. Today’s Solidarity, he claimed, was a “very modest caricature” of the trade union he as soon as supported.
As a substitute of championing freedoms, Solidarity now lobbies actively on the government’s aspect towards homosexual men, lesbians and any one else it views as insufficiently respectful of the Polish nation and its regular values.
Reframing the outdated battle versus Communism as a struggle these days versus homosexuality, a deal with posting very last calendar year in Solidarity’s weekly journal asked: “Is L.G.B.T. a new neo-Marxist ideology?” It featured an impression of the Soviet hammer and sickle imposed on a rainbow flag.
For today’s Solidarity, snatching again the tablets from the governing party’s liberal enemies is a essential element of a conservative marketing campaign to reclaim and reshape the past in means that justify Poland’s latest route.
“It is just a make a difference of time prior to we get them back again,” reported Roman Kuzminski, a former shipyard employee who is now a Solidarity leader in Gdansk and a faithful Regulation and Justice voter.
He denied that his union, after a highly effective opposition voice, now serves the authorities, insisting that it only follows members’ passions.
Lech Walesa, Solidarity’s founding leader in Gdansk all through the strikes that led to the collapse of Communism in Poland and throughout Japanese Europe, said the union currently “is so diverse from what it was that it must not be permitted to use the exact same identify.”
“Nothing connects me to Solidarity as it is now. We have completely unique objectives and pursuits,” Mr. Walesa claimed in his business in the European Solidarity Heart, a elaborate that consists of the museum that holds the tablets, as nicely as a library and investigate centre.
The tablets list the 21 calls for place forward by Solidarity beneath Mr. Walesa’s management in August 1980. The first of these was the suitable to create an unbiased trade union, followed by requires that the governing administration regard constitutional legal rights and freedoms and improve economic circumstances.
The boards are on loan to the European Solidarity Centre from a Gdansk maritime museum, to which Solidarity activists gave them for safekeeping in the 1980s.
Right after Legislation and Justice took electricity in 2015, it demanded the boards be returned to the museum, which it controls by means of the Lifestyle Ministry.
The European Solidarity Middle has refused, complaining that “instead of celebrating the range of the to start with Solidarity on its 40th anniversary, we are in risk of using memory to struggle for power.”
Aleksander Corridor, a historian and former Solidarity activist, explained the battle as component of a even larger political fight in Poland to regulate the heroic but contentious legacy of the 1980s and ’90s.
Religious conservatives and nationalists who dominate Regulation and Justice, he stated, “want to confiscate the whole historical past of Solidarity for themselves” and, in purchase to do that, have to have to get the tablets from their ideological foes. For any one trying to find political legitimacy and help in Poland, Mr. Hall extra, “Solidarity is a excellent asset.”
The union has even asserted ownership around Solidarity’s famed purple and white brand, to the fury of its creator, the graphic designer Jerzy Janiszewski. Mr. Janiszewski, in a phone interview from Spain, where he lives, insisted he holds the copyright and by no means gave it to a union that does “not protect the pursuits of employees but of the government.”
Mr. Michnik, the former Solidarity supporter, explained the united entrance designed by the battle versus communism was generally likely to splinter after the prevalent enemy was defeated.
But Mr. Michnik, now the editor in main of Gazeta Wyborcza, a liberal newspaper opposed to Legislation and Justice, considers today’s federal government-aligned edition of Solidarity a menace.
“Back then it was a mass motion of tens of millions with distinctive tendencies and currents, but its vital premise was that Poland be democratic, tolerant and pro-Western,” he stated. “Today’s Solidarity is an business with only a couple folks, which supports the destruction of democracy and supports anti-Western forces.”
The rift flows in part from two starkly various sights of Mr. Walesa, who was celebrated all-around the earth and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, but is now reviled by his previous union’s leadership and its federal government allies.
The bad blood is personalized, fed by Mr. Walesa’s contempt for Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Legislation and Justice’s chief, and his twin brother, Lech Kaczynski, a previous president, who died in 2010.
“They ended up insignificant activists,” explained Mr. Walesa, noting that, compared with himself and most other critical gamers in Solidarity, Jaroslaw Kaczynski was “not even arrested” after the Communist Occasion imposed martial legislation in December 1981.
The governing bash has a rival narrative in which Mr. Walesa is cast as a traitor for negotiating a peaceful transfer of ability with the Communist management in 1989.
Regulation and Justice has frequently accused Mr. Walesa of allowing for users of the previous communist elite to escape punishment and gain from the changeover to capitalism at the expense of common Poles.
The identical narrative has been embraced by Solidarity, led considering the fact that 2010 by Piotr Duda, a pugnacious former paratrooper and lathe operator at a now defunct steel mill, who accuses Poland’s past liberal authorities and Mr. Walesa of promoting out regular employees.
Immediately after Mr. Walesa became Poland’s initially freely elected president in 1990, the country embarked on a travel to overhaul its financial system by a crash program of privatization.
According to Roman Sebastyanski — an formal at the Solidarity Heritage Institute, which was set up by the trade union in 2019 as a rival to the European Solidarity Middle — this “primitive shock therapy” betrayed several who experienced supported the anti-communist bring about, leaving them jobless.
“We had a bloodless revolution, but there ended up enormous costs: Hundreds of factories and workplaces shut,” he mentioned.
That carnage is nevertheless noticeable at the Gdansk shipyard, in which a function power of around 17,000 under communism has shrunk to just a couple of hundred people today as land has been offered off to private buyers and large-end apartment blocks have sprouted all around defunct workshops. The main shipyard went bankrupt in 1996.
“We were definitely crying when it closed,” recalled Helena Dmochowska, who labored for 34 decades as a crane operator at the shipyard. “How could this happen to these a huge and impressive workplace?”
She stated that she did not guidance Regulation and Justice, but that she did not like the ruling party’s liberal opponents, both. “All of them tricked us,” she mentioned.
The European Solidarity Centre, which rejoices about the defeat of Communism, helps make no mention of the value paid out by former shipbuilders who shed their careers, Mr. Sebastyanski stated. “They exist in outer space about there,” he stated.
Opened in 2014, the large center towers around the now mainly derelict former shipyard and a compact brick creating housing a modest rival museum managed by today’s Solidarity. The two museums are nominally partners but advertise diametrically opposed agendas, a person celebrating Mr. Walesa and Poland’s aspect in a more substantial European tale, the other centered narrowly on Polish shipbuilders.
Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, the liberal mayor of Gdansk, lamented that the wrestle to handle Solidarity’s legacy experienced gotten so out of hand. The boards with the 21 requires, she included, experienced fallen sufferer to a campaign by Legislation and Justice to “control and rewrite background.”
“Every nation, each and every history, just about every legend needs its symbols, and one of the most essential symbols for us are these tablets with the 21 calls for,” she said. “This is why there is these types of a massive combat.”